2020 Audi Q3 Review

Liz Kim, Independent Expert | Jan 21, 2020

Introduction

At the turn of the century, driving a compact vehicle meant that you couldn’t afford anything bigger or better. Times have changed, and the 2020 Audi Q3 is a perfect reflection of new consumer attitudes.

Small but not cheap, the Q3 is tailor-made for urban dwellers, empty nesters, technology nerds, and anyone else who wants a luxurious and sophisticated crossover SUV but doesn’t need the size, capability, and inefficiency associated with a stereotypically rugged sport-ute.

In fact, I’d characterize the Q3 as petite and dainty in almost all respects, which likely won’t help Audi sell the Q3 to people with Y chromosomes. Don’t worry, fellas. Choose a color other than Turbo Blue, bolt on the optional 20-inch wheels, and the Q3 mans-up in a hurry.

2020 Audi Q3 Prestige Turbo front view

Well-equipped right out of the box, the Audi Q3 gets expensive in top trim and with all of the extras. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Q3 Prestige equipped with a Sport Interior Package and wood inlay trim. The price came to a rather shocking $44,745, including the $995 destination charge. And it didn’t have every option, either.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Audi Q3, it is helpful to understand who buys small premium SUVs, and what they like most and least about this type of vehicle.

Demographically, women are more likely to own a small premium SUV (54%). The median age of owners is 56 years, and they enjoy a median annual household income of $148,481. Many identify as Performance Buyers (42%), followed by Practical Buyers (29%).

According to J.D. Power data, 95% of the people own these types of SUVs say that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship. Reliability is a another high-agreement subject, with 94% saying that it’s a first consideration when choosing a vehicle. Small premium SUV owners also want responsive handling and powerful acceleration, with 92% agreeing they like vehicles that provide these traits.

Somewhat surprisingly, given their naturally fuel-efficient nature, 40% of owners of these vehicles disagree that they’re willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly.

Owners say their favorite things about small premium SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, seats, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about small premium SUVs are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, climate control system, infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Audi Q3 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

My test vehicle came wrapped in Audi’s eye-searing Turbo Blue, which resembled a tub of primary tempera paint in my young daughter’s arsenal. It certainly catches your attention, and the Prestige trim’s 19-inch wheels go a long way towards giving the Q3 a more aggressive stance. But they’re plain in comparison to the optional 20-inch wheels.

Buyers in this segment consider exterior styling to be their favorite thing about owning a small premium SUV, and Audi’s sparkling four interwoven rings certainly put quite a luster on the Q3. Overall, though, this little SUV isn’t particularly distinctive, Turbo Blue hue notwithstanding.

Interior

Swathed in a black-on-black color scheme, the test vehicle’s already small cabin felt even more cramped. But you can’t hide good taste and quality, both of which are evident in the Q3’s pleasing materials and understated but high-tech interior design.

A huge panoramic sunroof is standard on every Q3, helping to brighten the cabin and let the outdoors in. At night, strips of ambient LED lighting lend this little Audi plenty of sophistication, and you can change the colors to suit your mood.

Seats

Despite the Q3’s close quarters – hopefully the driver and front passenger maintain good relations, since they’re practically rubbing arms – the seats themselves are quite comfortable. Equipped with the optional sport seats, the test vehicle’s front chairs provided plenty of power adjustments, seat bolstering, and thigh support. They were heated, too, but a ventilation function was nowhere to be found.

In the rear, two adults will fit, but it’s not exactly roomy. Taller people will find their knees and shins right up against the hard plastic on the front seatbacks. The rear seatbacks recline for greater comfort, and my kids liked having their own USB charging port. The seat slides forward, too, helping to create extra cargo room.

Climate Control System

During a local cold snap, the Q3’s triple-zone climate control system did an admirable job of making the SUV’s cabin toasty on chilly mornings. Logically arranged using physical knobs and buttons, the controls are clearly marked and easy to use. I did, however, regularly mistake the center fan speed knob for a stereo volume knob.

Infotainment System

With its 2019 redesign, the Q3 added the latest version of Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI) infotainment system. Available with a standard 8.8-inch or optional 10.1-inch touchscreen display, it provides haptic feedback to your touch and works similar to a smartphone.

Unfortunately, the only physical control that Audi retains is a volume and tuning knob, located down low where it is hard to reach and use. This placement encourages copious use of the steering wheel controls to change stations and adjust volume.

The system also includes voice and handwriting recognition, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection. The test vehicle also had wireless smartphone charging, navigation, a terrific Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, and Audi’s impressive Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, complete with Google Earth satellite imagery of the area you’re driving through.

Storage and Space

Sure, small cars mean small storage, but the Q3 challenges your acceptance of this expectation because there is precious little of it. Plus, the cargo area isn’t terribly generous.

Open the standard power-operated hatch to find a maximum of 23.7 cu.-ft. of space behind the rear seats. Yes, that’s bigger than most sedans, but remember that you’ll have to stack items to the roof to take full advantage of that number. The actual floor load space is quite small, and while there are two little side bins to hold items like wine bottles, all of the underfloor storage is eaten up by the spare tire. Maximum space with the rear seats folded measures 48 cu.-ft.

Given that small premium SUV buyers say that storage and space is next to last on their favorite things about this type of vehicle, the Audi Q3 isn’t going to change that sentiment.

Visibility and Safety

My time with the Q3 coincided with unusually chilly Southern California weather, complete with a daily fogged windshield, side windows, and reversing camera lens. To its credit, the Q3 warmed fast, helping to ensure proper outward visibility.

My test vehicle was equipped with a full suite of active safety technology, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic warning. When used, all of these systems worked with accuracy and sophistication. However, it’s surprising that a lane keeping assist system is unavailable for the Q3.

If a collision occurs, rest assured the Q3 will do everything it can to protect you. When equipped with the full LED headlights in the Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels, the Q3 earns a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Engine/Transmission

Every Audi Q3 features a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 228 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Those are not big numbers, but this is not a big vehicle.

Underway, the Q3 feels mighty spirited as long as you don’t have Audi Drive Select in Comfort mode. Then, the car feels a little sleepy and lazy. Choose Dynamic mode for the most satisfying acceleration characteristics.

Tasked with putting the power through the Q3’s standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system, the 8-speed automatic transmission does a decent job of shifting. Sometimes it exhibited an irritating delay during upshifts, letting revs fall off and making the SUV feel as though it had stumbled.

Although diminutive in size, the Q3 weighs nearly two tons. That explains why it takes seven seconds for it to accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph, according to Audi. And it also explains the rather dismal fuel economy numbers.

Fuel Economy

The EPA says the Q3 should get 19 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg in combined driving. These are unimpressive ratings and aren’t much better than some significantly larger and more powerful SUVs. On my test loop, I averaged 21.5 mpg.

Frankly, people who buy small SUVs such as the Q3 expect better.

Driving Dynamics

Like most Audis, the Q3 is a hoot to drive when you’ve got it set up right. However, while it sits on fairly sophisticated underpinnings, there’s no getting around the stubby wheelbase and taller center of gravity, which manifest themselves in excessive vertical motions and head toss in both the driver and passengers.

Where the Q3 excels is in city driving, where its pint-size proportions make it a cinch to thread traffic, scoot around corners, and whip into parking spaces that you’d otherwise have to pass up in a bigger vehicle. For this point-and-squirt kind of driving, the light and precise steering, and the firm and easily modulated brakes, come in really handy.

Foul weather is no match for Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system, either. It powers the front wheels, transferring motive force rearward as conditions require. There’s also an Off-Road driving mode, just in case you’re inspired to explore. Just don’t get too far off the beaten path in what is clearly more a crossover than an SUV.

Final Impressions

With its premium cabin, high level of safety equipment, and likeable driving dynamics, the Audi Q3 stands proud amongst the likes of the BMW X1 and X2, Cadillac XT4, Infiniti QX30, Jaguar E-Pace, Lexus UX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Volvo XC40. If a small crossover is what fits your needs, the Audi Q3 is a compelling pick for people who like a bit of luxury in a tiny, bite-sized package.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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